Why are high end DACs so expensive?

January 16, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

15 comments on “Why are high end DACs so expensive?”

      1. mic mac,
        Don’t comment like that until you’ve read the disgusting
        insults that ‘CtA’ has called me all during last year;
        otherwise you are just showing your ignorance.
        You should be fully informed before you start
        telling random contributors to, “be nice”.
        Thank you

      1. Of course they do! Interestingly, it is PS’s DAC that subjectivists “discovered” had a sound signature. Then, measurements confirmed that subjectivists “hearing” was correct. Some people may “like” the tone modification provided by your DAC, others may prefer to have a neutral one and add EQ themselves.

        This is why I am so surprised that you used a transformer in your DAC. It is like having a carburetor in a modern Lamborghini.
        You should have known better, Paul. Blackberries finally died.

    1. Sorry, you are way off. All gear comes down to the total built quality and not just the DAC section and it’s quality also. I guess you would say a 100-watt Best Buy receiver sounds the same as a 100 watt say McIntosh amplifier, PS Audio Mark Levinson, and so on. Same for a preamp, power supply, quality of the parts used, and circuit design matter.

      1. Sorry, it all ends up in how it measures. There are standards for that. You follow the standards and this is what in the end makes the difference. Below a certain threshold, it doesn’t matter.

        1. Well believe what you want but anyone in this hobby can tell you gear sounds better the power supply and the type of parts selected to voice a given product. If not by your thinking everything would sound the same if it specs out the same even if one product with a cheap power supply weighed say 15 lbs to be generous, and the other says amp weight 75 lbs say they had the same parts but the other had a much bigger power supply only, there be a night and day difference. And I know from experience building my own tube preamp, later I built a much larger outboard power supply when finished it was jaw-dropping better. The change? the power supply.

  1. Pricing is complicated.
    One way is what do comparable products go for?
    Clever engineering puts the money where it shows. Andrew Jones knows exactly how every design decision effects his speakers.

    Another is if we use MilSpec components everywhere, or gold plate the sculptured amp and add a power meter from a Swiss watch company, sell just a few a year for big bucks, we’re laughing. Dave Wilson:”I can’t afford my loudspeakers.”
    Or mass produce good design like much Schiit or AudioQuest Dragonfly they can sell scads of them for a couple of hundred lousy bucks.
    Or Paul’s way: cost of ingredients with a markup factor. Better retrieve your years of sunk cost of development over a long product run. And keep distribution costs way down.

  2. I’ve read/watched several times, those that will tell you- “Buy your Speakers FIRST, then the Electronics”. And, I understand the logic.

    However, I chose to go the opposite route-

    I constructed my own PC-Based A/V Server (very carefully picking components); graduated from a decent Internal Soundcard to an Outboard USB DAC. I then went up ONE tier in the DAC, then another and another, finally adding an Upscaler to the mix.

    I stuck with the same manufacturer as I didn’t want a tonality change between the different DACS to confuse the issue while searching for the sound I wanted.

    What I DID notice between the (3) DACS was how each “simply” added more to the previous unit’s strengths: More Bass-Extension, Layering, Soundstage and Imaging and an overall Expansiveness (with the Upscaler) that couldn’t otherwise be attained with any other components.

    Hooking a “cheap”-ish CD Transport to a great DAC/Upscaler makes a world of difference to how that CD Player sounds.
    Doing the opposite (my testing), does not. I’m assuming the more costly Transports have much better DACs inside which makes them sound far better and one of the reasons they are more costly.

    My existing Speakers were (fortunately) resolving enough to appreciate the upstream Components and the Speakers are now the last item to upgrade in the chain.

    I was astounded how much difference a great DAC (and Upscaler for icing on the cake) made to the overall sound which will finally be appreciated by better Speakers.

    I love the hobby and from personal experience, spending money on those things that matter to sound the most (I know, they ALL do :)), I’ve put together a great system I’m very happy with.

    I’m a huge fan of really fine DACs and what they bring to Digital Music.
    My music no longer has any hint of sounding Digital and is now Analogue smooth, yet highly resolving.


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